Rick Butler built his volleyball empire in Illinois.
But he never really left Oregon behind.
Butler grew up in a small town in western Oregon, where his parents owned a service station. Today, he owns a large, secluded home on nearly 250 acres of property in Crook County about 200 miles east of his hometown, records show. The property is worth $1.25 million, county officials estimate, and Butler often shares majestic views of the surrounding wilderness on Facebook.
A tragic turn in a complicated life
But back in 1995 — in the midst of the sexual abuse scandal that nearly ended his career — something else drew Butler’s attention back to the town of Eugene, Oregon. He went to the town’s police department in May of that year seeking information about the January 1975 death of his 2-year-old son, Christopher Alan Butler, police and court records show.
The boy’s death had been ruled an accidental drowning in a bathtub, but that changed after Rick Butler’s visit.
While Butler was fending off USA Volleyball’s expulsion efforts here, authorities out west began re-investigating the 20-year-old death of Butler’s boy.
That new investigation led to murder charges against the boy’s stepfather, Stephen Hinkle, in April 1996.
Butler met the boy’s mother, Jaylene Hamlin, through his sister in the summer of 1970, when he was still in high school. Hamlin became pregnant with Christopher, and the teenagers got married in February 1972 in Reno, Nevada. She moved to Butler’s hometown of Yoncalla, and they lived with Butler’s parents while he finished high school, police records show.
The marriage began to fall apart by the end of 1972. They divorced in 1973 but “stayed on friendly terms,” according to a police report. Butler went on to study at Oregon’s Institute of Technology and then the College of the Siskiyous in northern California. He would also attend the University of Redlands in southern California, where he played football.
Meanwhile, Hamlin kept custody of Christopher and married Hinkle, records show.
Christopher died Jan. 7, 1975, while his mother was at night school. His stepfather later told authorities he had been giving the boy a bath and had “just checked him” when he left the bathroom. When he returned, the boy “was under the water,” records show. A pathologist determined the child had drowned, despite various bruises and other marks on his body.
Butler was living in a cabin outside Weed, Calif., when police came to tell him about the boy’s death, records show.
Move to Illinois — and a career change
Butler would move to Illinois in 1979. Here, he met Bob Gajda, the strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team. Butler started working with the team, and eventually he became a strength coach as well. He worked with the first U.S. team to win an Olympic gold medal in volleyball, records show.
He also met a young woman, Dawn Reig, who now lives in West Dundee and said in a phone interview that she introduced Butler to the game of volleyball.
Reig acknowledged she dated Butler for about a year and a half after she turned 18. She also said that, though Butler trained her, he was never her coach.
“He was good to me,” Reig said. “He never treated me poorly. We broke up, it was done. It was over.”
Butler opened Sports Performance Volleyball Club with Kay Rogness in 1981. In its first year, the program was coached by Jerry Angle, who was also the head women’s volleyball coach at Northwestern University at the time. Butler took over in 1982.
Sports Performance Volleyball would go on to win 28 national championships and help land its players more than $10 million in scholarships in the 13 years that followed.
Along the way, Butler coached Sarah Powers-Barnhard, Christine Tuzi and Julie Romias. He also met his future wife, Cheryl, who is now one of Sports Performance Volleyball’s owners and one of Butler’s most passionate defenders. They married in 1995.
Meanwhile, Butler’s family harbored “a strong suspicion” that his son had met with foul play back in Oregon, according to police records.
Hinkle wound up pleading guilty to manslaughter after prosecutors accused him of killing Christopher Butler, records show.
READ MORE IN THIS SERIES:
Rick Butler’s full statement in response to sexual abuse accusations